Missouri Meerschaum Corn Cob Pipe plant

The Missouri Meerschaum Co. corn cob pipe factory stands at the corner of Front and Cedar streets Sept. 23 in Washington. David and Jerri Hoffmann have expressed interest in purchasing the building.

The corn cob pipe capital of the world may soon become the Hoffmann corn cob pipe capital of the world.

After a press conference to announce plans for a new 12-hole golf course in Augusta, David Hoffmann, of the Hoffmann Family of Companies, said he and his wife, Jerri, are eyeing the Missouri Meerschaum Co.’s corn cob pipe business and building as their next acquisition.

Over the past year, the Hoffmanns have purchased or have signaled their intent to purchase a number of established Washington-area businesses and area wineries to create a $125 million national tourist destination to rival Napa Valley. Those purchases, completed or underway, include NOA Medical Industries, of Washington, Mid-America Coaches, of Washington, Ferguson Valley Nursery in Warren County, Town and Country Nursery, of Dutzow, and four Augusta wineries: Montelle Winery, Augusta Winery, Mount Pleasant Estates and Balducci Vineyards. The couple also has plans to open a large hotel and conference center in Augusta and a boutique hotel on the former Emmaus Home campus in Marthasville. David Hoffmann declined to share details of any negotiations for the purchase or the couple’s potential plans for the Missouri Meerschaum company, which is based in an 1880s era factory on Front Street in Washington.

“We just love it as is,” he said. “Just think, it would be neat to have on our trolley tour to come (to Augusta), go to our wineries, go to our golf course, go to our boat, go down to Washington and take a tour, we think that would be really cool.”

Phil Morgan, general manager of Missouri Meerschaum, confirmed that Osprey Capital, a Chicago-area investment firm in the Hoffmann Family of Companies, had reached out to the current owners of the business, Bob Moore, of Mexico, Missouri; Larry Horton, of Sedalia, Missouri; and Michael Lechtenberg, of Lawrence, Kansas. Morgan said the discussions have not progressed much past an initial expression of interest, and he is not sure if potential plans or price have been talked about, but he said David Hoffmann showed little interest in changing much about the factory.

“When he first talked with them, his interest was to keep it functioning, not to just buy the building and redevelop it,” Morgan said of the factory.

He said if David Hoffmann said otherwise about the business, which traces its roots back to 1869, the owners likely would have given him a hard “a hard no.”

“He basically, I think, said that (the company) is an iconic institution in Washington. There’s a hell of a lot of history here, and not just about Missouri Meerschaum, but Washington itself is so related to the corn cob pipe company. He recognizes that. He’s from Washington. He understands the unique place that Missouri Meerschaum is, and that he intends to keep it, not shut it down or move the business someplace else, that he intends to keep it here,” Morgan said.

At 400 W. Front St., The Missouri Meerschaum building has three floors and is more than 50,000 square feet in size. It is currently zoned as industrial, allowing for the manufacturing of pipes, but at its Oct. 4 meeting, the City Council signaled that it is likely to rezone much of downtown, including the factory, for mixed use, according to Sal Maniaci, Washington’s community and economic development director. 

Maniaci said the C-3 rezoning would allow for retail, residential, commercial or other uses, though he would not speculate how the Hoffmanns may use the Missouri Meerschaum if the purchase were to happen. For a while, Maniaci said, the city has been interested in the redevelopment of the unused portions of the Missouri Meerschaum building, and he is interested in seeing what plans the Hoffmanns may have.

“It’s definitely very exciting to have anybody who has the wherewithal to make that type of investment in our community, to see Washington’s potential, downtown’s potential as a regional destination for people,” Maniaci said “But, to have somebody like him and his wife, who have ties here, who grew up here, to not only see the potential, but then to want to come back and invest their money in somewhere they grew up, we think it’s great.”